"It's 14 miles to Kaplan.". . ."Turn right at Levys!". . . "Let's stop for lunch in Seligman!". . . "That new motel is just outside of Weiner."
This is familiar talk to everyone who has traveled anywhere in the United States by car, but who ever heard of those places? What map are they on?
But there are such places on the map, even though most tourists are unaware of them. That's because so many of the 92 towns, villages, counties, mountains, lakes and forests named for Jews are not along the main-traveled highways.
Wherever you go in the United States you'll probably not be too far from places whose Jewish namesakes contributed in some way to local, state or national history.
In Texas you'll find two of the three counties named for Jews.
Castro County, in the panhandle, south of Amarillo, honors Henry de Castro, a French Jew who in 1842 signed a contract with President Sam Houston of the Republic of Texas to colonize the area west of the Medina River.
The town of Castroville, on the west bank of the river, was founded by Castro in the 1840s.
Kaufman County, just east of Fort Worth, memorializes the services of David S. Kaufman, who was one of the first members of Congress from Texas after that state joined the Union.
The third county that bears a Jew's name is Levy County, on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Levy was the original name David Levy Yulee, who helped draft the first constitution of Florida. Chosen Florida's first congressman-at-large in 1841, he was the first Jew elected to Congress. In 1845 he also became the first Jew to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Levy Lake, a popular fishing spot in nearby Alachua County, is named for Moses Levy, Yulee's father, who settled in Florida before it became American territory.
One of the largest rice-growing towns in the South is Kaplan, Louisiana, founded in 1901 by Abram Kaplan, who pioneered the rice industry in Vermilion parish.
Marksville of Avoyelles parish, memorializes Marc Eliche, who came there in 1820.
Brandenburg, Kentucky, recalls Colonel Solomon Brandenburg, who fought in the War of 1812 and ran a tavern in Meade County.
The once bustling but now virtually deserted Kentucky River town of Gratz is a reminder that the Gratz family of Philadelphia had mercantile interest that linked the east with the newly opened western country in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
East or west, north or south, the Jews are on the map of the United States. There's Fleischmann in New York, Gratz in Pennsylvania, Falkville in Alabama, Marcus in Washington, Seligman in Missouri, Edelstein in Illinios, Lehman Caves National Monument in Nevada, Cohen's Bluff and Levys in South Carolina and many more.
When you find the places that go with the names, you'll stub your toes on some of the bits and pieces that add up to the exciting story that is American Jewish history.